What Is a Diabetic Shock and How Can It Be Prevented?

Know the Signs of Diabetic Shock to Prevent Diabetic Coma

Fingertip blood sugar testing

Hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia can be a frightening event, but often a quick boost of sugar or injection of insulin is all you need to restore balance. On the other hand, high or low blood sugar that’s left untreated can escalate quickly, and life-threatening symptoms can develop as the body tries to deal with the imbalance of glucose and insulin in the body.

Diabetic shock is more common than you might imagine. Since many medications can leave you prone to hypoglycemia, and people with long-standing diabetes could begin to ignore symptoms, you may be at risk for diabetic shock without realizing it.

Learn the common warning signs, when to act, and how to protect yourself or someone else from the dangerous consequences.

Early Warning Signs of Diabetic Shock

There are different levels of hypoglycemic and hyperglycemic shock, and while the symptoms may be mild at the outset, they will get progressively worse. Fatigue, nausea, and anxiety are classic signs of trouble, but severe low blood sugar and severe high blood sugar each bring some distinct symptoms.

Hypoglycemic Shock

When there’s not enough glucose in your blood, symptoms can fluctuate wildly — they may mimic a panic attack, or might leave you feeling very weak. Here are some of the most common changes to watch for, listed from mild to more severe:

  • Shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Hunger
  • Light-headedness
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Extreme irritability
  • Blurred vision

In general, severe cognitive symptoms (confusion, difficulty speaking, or loss of coordination) indicate that your hypoglycemia has advanced to a more severe stage. In these cases, it can be difficult for a diabetic to follow directions, and they might resist treatment.


If you suspect you could lose consciousness, reach out for help right away.

Hyperglycemic Shock

When there’s too much glucose in your blood you’re more likely to notice extreme thirst instead of hunger (diabetes and dehydration go hand-in-hand), and a rapid heartbeat along with your nausea. Other common symptoms of hyperglycemic shock include:

    • Frequent urination
    • Very dry mouth
    • Vomiting

Stomach A fruity

  • A fruity odor to the breath
  • Shortness of breath

In many cases when the hyperglycemic symptoms are fairly mild, exercise can help to bring your blood sugar back down to a reasonable level. However, when your body is severely starved of insulin, exercise isn’t the answer. Extreme hyperglycemia can lead to ketoacidosis, a life-threatening emergency.

When the body doesn’t have the insulin needed to use carbohydrates for energy, it will begin to draw on stored fat, producing waste products known as ketones. If these ketones are present in your urine, exercise can send your blood sugar even higher and put you at high risk for diabetic coma.

Shortness of breath, fruity smelling breath, and vomiting signal a medical emergency — call 911 instead of trying to treat the problem at home.

Diabetic Coma

Diabetic shock can lead to a diabetic coma when you don’t intervene fast enough. Typically, symptoms progress from dizziness and fatigue to confusion and weakness, then poor coordination, muscle tremors, and seizures when your blood sugar drops into the 30 mg/dl range.

When blood sugar spikes into the 600 mg/dl range, fatigue and weakness can give way to high fever, headaches, hallucinations, and paralysis before a diabetic loses consciousness. Each extreme can lead to a type of diabetic coma.

Naturally, you shouldn’t give food, drink, or oral supplements to someone who is losing consciousness, since they could choke. At this point, the body is in a severe state that requires prompt medical intervention.

How to Handle a Diabetic Shock Emergency

When symptoms progress or are difficult to control, you need to take quick action. In order to proceed safely, keep these important steps in mind if you ever find yourself in a diabetic shock emergency.

Stop What You’re Doing

Driving a car, riding a bike, or performing any activity requiring attention and coordination can put you at danger if your symptoms are spiraling out of control.

The first step is to stop what you’re doing and bring your blood glucose back to safe levels before continuing. This small step could save you and the people around you from injury.

Next page: preventing blood sugar crises.

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